Elana Newman, PhD
ISTSS celebrated its 27th year this March — the newsletter you are reading now is 21 years old this very issue, and the Journal of Traumatic Stress is in its 19th year of publication this April. From the inception of ISTSS, diverse professionals united to propel the field forward by agreeing that in a culture that avoids, forgets, denies and compartmentalizes tragedy, atrocities and human cruelty, ISTSS members needed to unite across disciplines, survivor groups and countries to understand, intervene and prevent trauma and its ill effects. As a society and individually, our members have done incredible work over three decades:
- PTSD is recognized as a legitimate diagnosis;
- Effective interventions have been developed to treat PTSD and other trauma-related responses to trauma;
- The science of psychobiology of vulnerability and resilience continues to advance our knowledge and our ability to prevent and intervene;
- The United Nations recognizes the needs of those exposed to trauma, thanks to ISTSS representatives Yael Danieli, Joyce Braak and Elizabeth Carll;
- We publish the premier journal promoting traumatic stress science;
- We have made strides in our internationalization, with strong ties to affiliate organizations around the world. In response to the realities of differential economics, our reduced fee structure encourages the broadest international membership in ISTSS;
- We were one of the first groups to develop Treatment Guidelines for PTSD thanks to the hard work of volunteer editors and authors;
- And much, much, more…
Despite incredible advances in knowledge and policy about traumatic stress over the past 25 years, traumatic events continue to occur at alarming rates and many survivors and their families continue to suffer from devastating effects of exposure to such events. Given this unfortunate reality, ISTSS members continue to have enormous work to do, both individually and collectively, to understand, prevent, and intervene on behalf of survivors.
Achieving ISTSS’ goals of advancing and exchanging multi-disciplinary knowledge about the nature of the short- and long-term effects of trauma, as well as leading prevention and intervention efforts, requires our collective work from multiple perspectives, cultures, countries and stakeholder perspectives. Simply put, achieving these goals requires us to capitalize on the strength of ISTSS — its diversity. Amidst this diversity, each of us brings a unique perspective to our collective efforts.
Some of us are scientists. Some of us are clinicians. Some of us are both. Some of us are advocates. Some of us are survivors. Some of us are scholars, historians, clergy, teachers, journalists, policy-makers, rescue-workers and a host of other identities. We work from several different paradigms to define and promote knowledge about trauma. Each paradigm is important, with inherent strengths and weaknesses.
Regardless of what paradigm guides each member in individual efforts to help survivors, ISTSS members remain united in one mission
— to help those affected by trauma, exploitation and disaster. Again and again, we must return to our mission: to share accurate knowledge to improve the ways we help survivors. In fact, at the midyear board of directors meeting last year, the board agreed that rather than try to merge different types of knowledge in one project and dilute the merits of each, we need to strive to make sure that both the best science and the best practice are advanced in ISTSS. We are also exploring ways to re-invigorate our grassroots history by advocating for the field with one voice with our new Public Policy Committee.
Our history and the very nature of progress in science and practice portend occasional difficult-to-reconcile positions among our members. In addressing these inevitable conflicts our focus should remain fixed on our underlying mission to help survivors and on the long-term sustainability of the field of traumatic stress. Such a focus does not mean we squash or ignore conflict — in fact, ignoring conflict would be a disservice to our mission and sustainability of the field. Rather, a consistent focus on our mission helps us define the most important issues when addressing disagreements. For example, let’s discuss the quality of evidence produced rather than the person who produced it. Let’s discuss what we know and the uncertainties and gaps in the evidence base. Let’s argue about the directions in which the field needs to grow. Let’s discuss new projects we need to pursue. Let’s fundraise for new endeavors. Let’s support members who are engaged in projects that propel the field ahead.
Promoting the best science and practice requires true diversity in perspectives and training. To be truly diverse we need to accept that we will disagree, passionately and intensely; and we need to find compromise to work together to help the field progress despite our disagreements. The bottom line: we can see things differently and continue to engage, argue, and learn from one another with mutual respect.
Past President, Dr. Sandy Bloom (2000), stated in her description of the history of ISTSS
“Our work is far from over. It has only just begun. Ahead, for the organization, lie the same challenges that we pose for our traumatized patients. Can we continue to balance conflicting needs without disintegrating into chaos? Can we contain overwhelming affect and manage the anxiety of change and lack of predictability without becoming destructive? Can we ultimately find ways to successfully integrate conflicting desires, needs, points of view, and agendas into a creative, dynamic whole? Can we hold onto our memories of what we have learned, defying the ever-present tendency to deny and forget the effects of trauma?”
I believe the answer to each of Dr. Bloom’s questions is “yes.” We need all ISTSS members, together, each and every one of us, to focus our attention on this mission. By doing so, ISTSS and the field of traumatic stress will create and share essential knowledge that helps us help those suffering from trauma, disaster, exploitation and crime.
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